Michael Phelps’ goal in fifth Olympics to right a London wrong


OMAHA — After Michael Phelps briefly choked up, and coach Bob Bowman shed tears, the U.S.’ first five-time Olympic male swimmer turned to the business ahead.

Phelps, on the eve of his 31st birthday and with his eight-week-old son in attendance (sleeping, Phelps guessed), became the oldest man to win a U.S. Olympic Trials event on Wednesday.

“Where I am in life, things are probably going to hit me a lot more emotionally now than they would have in the past,” Phelps said after handing a stuffed animal from his award ceremony to baby Boomer.

So much about Wednesday’s victory gave Phelps reason for a brief pause to compose himself before addressing the media.

Everything that happened since what we all thought was Phelps’ last Olympic race in 2012 (before which he and Bowman also cried): Unretiring in 2014. The DUI arrest, suspension, rehab stint. Getting engaged. Becoming a father.

The event in which Phelps made his fifth Olympic team is loaded with emotional history, too.

“It’s very special to the family,” said Phelps, whose sister Whitney swam it at the 1996 Olympic Trials and finished a disappointing sixth, slowed by a back injury.

The 200m butterfly was referred to as “Michael Phelps’ signature event” for nearly a decade.

He made his first Olympic team solely in the 200m butterfly in 2000. He became the youngest man to break an individual swimming world record when he lowered the 200m fly mark for the first of eight times in 2001. He won some 60 straight 200m butterflies in a nine-year span.

Then the London Olympics happened. Phelps lost two individual races at those Games. He was fourth in the 400m individual medley, which he should never have raced because he had barely trained for the grueling event.

Later, the 200m butterfly. South African Chad le Clos stunned Phelps by .05 of a second. Phelps is going to Rio to get that one back.

Phelps provided a glimpse into his competitive drive when he said Wednesday night that he recently watched the 2012 Olympic 200m butterfly final for the first time not too long ago.

“I was so anti- watching that race, because I just didn’t even want to bring up the memories,” said Phelps, who earlier in his career wouldn’t let go of stinging defeats (like after he lost a 100m butterfly to Ian Crocker in 2003 and taped a picture of Crocker up to see it daily). “I noticed a lot that I did in that race that I’m not going to do again. I think I’m a lot more prepared this time.”

Phelps faded badly in the final 50 meters (.63 slower than le Clos) and had an awful finish. Phelps came up short on his last stroke and had to glide into the wall.

On Wednesday night, Phelps appeared to be losing a little ground to second-place Tom Shields with 25 meters left but created some breathing room in his final few strokes. He won by .97 of a second over Shields, who is primarily known as a 100m butterfly swimmer.

Phelps’ last 50 meters were swum in 31.90 seconds, sixth best out of the eight swimmers.

That kind of effort will not cut it against the strongest gold-medal threats Phelps as perhaps ever seen in the 200m butterfly going into an Olympics.

There is le Clos, still in his prime at age 24. He won the 100m butterfly at the 2015 World Championships (with Phelps absent due to the DUI ban) in an African record 50.56 seconds and then awoke Phelps by trash talking.

Phelps responded later that day by winning the 100m butterfly at the U.S. Championships in San Antonio in 50.45, the fastest time in the world since 2009.

“Let that swim make statements,” Phelps said then.

A Phelps-le Clos rematch, with a little chirping, would be one of the most anticipated events at the Rio Olympics as a head-to-head.

Then add this — Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh won the European Championships 200m butterfly on May 16 in 1:52.91, the fastest time in the world in that event since Phelps’ world record at the 2009 World Championships.

Cseh’s time in May was 1.93 seconds faster than Phelps’ time on Wednesday night. Cseh, 30, has won five Olympic medals combined in three Games, all silver or bronze in events won by Phelps.

When Phelps came out of a 20-month competitive retirement in 2014, he swore off the 200m butterfly.

“Nope, uh-uh,” Phelps said then. “I will tell you that that race and the 400m IM are definitely gone.”

Phelps warmed to re-adding it in early 2015, when he noticed the world’s top 200m butterfly times were not impressive. Even when le Clos and Cseh started surging late last year, Phelps kept at it because his own physical shape had reached its peak since the 2008 Olympics, perhaps earlier.

“This 200m fly that’ll happen in the next couple of weeks [in Rio in August] will probably be harder than any 200m fly I’ve ever done,” Phelps said Wednesday.

Before Phelps went to celebrate with Bowman and longtime training partner Allison Schmitt, and to prepare for his final two events this week, he remembered a meeting with Muhammad Ali before the 2004 Athens Games.

“I’ll never forget him holding his fist up to my face,” Phelps said, “and saying you better win all those gold medals.”

MORE: Missy Franklin surges to make second Olympic team

Elena Fanchini, medal-winning Alpine skier, dies at 37

Elena Fanchini

Italian skier Elena Fanchini, whose career was cut short by a tumor, has died. She was 37.

Fanchini passed away Wednesday at her home in Solato, near Brescia, the Italian Winter Sports Federation announced.

Fanchini died on the same day that fellow Italian Marta Bassino won the super-G at the world championships in Meribel, France; and two days after Federica Brignone — another former teammate — claimed gold in combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her win in Cortina d’Ampezzo last month to Fanchini.

Fanchini last raced in December 2017. She was cleared to return to train nearly a year later but never made it fully back, and her condition grew worse in recent months.

Fanchini won a silver medal in downhill at the 2005 World Championships and also won two World Cup races in her career — both in downhill.

She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

Fanchini’s younger sisters Nadia and Sabrina were also World Cup racers.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

USA Boxing

USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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